Don’t be afraid. We have not forgotten that they died. You will not remind us by bringing them up. By speaking of them, you remind us that they mattered. And that is such a giftMira Simone @newmoonmira
Hello, It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? My apologies for not blogging in so long. I think writing for a living and just allowing time for reflection does that. So, last year I penned a piece called the Endless Cost of Love. This was my take on grief and the lessons it has taught me but I find myself a year on with new lessons. I’m here to share.
Grief takes over our sensory system like nothing else. It can be triggered by certain smells, colours, songs, phrases, I could go on. This blog is inspired by the Sad Book where Michael Rosen writes about the sadness he felt at the loss of his son. This is such a poignant little book which captures so many emotions relating to grief so eloquently. I would also like to mention Susie Flintham and Jo Gooding from COVID Justice UK. Thank you.
Rarely does a day go by where I don’t think about Grandad. In the South-Asian community, the significance of grandparents cannot go unnoticed. whereas , typically parents are the providers, grandparents do much of the emotional labour. The bond between grandparents and the grandchildren is pure, unconditional and deep. Looking back to November 13th 2015, when I was at my beloved Lodge Park Academy in Corby for my first PGCE placement, the dreaded phone call was indeed life changing. However, the grief merely began that day and continues to live with me. Whenever the daily figures for the number of COVID-19 deaths are published, I find myself standing in that hospital waiting room watching the brave Doctors and Nurses tend to our dying Grandfather. This isn’t an emotion I can wipe away, get over or just leave, it will live with me and learning to accept this and embrace the empathy grief has brought to my life is now part of my journey.
As I go through my phone and see the dozens of inspirational quotes friends and family have sent over the years, I’m still numb. The post of the Stages of Grief model by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is everyone’s go to. The same model that Kübler-Ross later regretted ever writing the stages and did not want it to be the universal veneer from which loss is conceptualised. But, the past 12 months have taught me some new lessons about loss which I would like to share.
Listening is the purest form of love.
By this I mean active listening where we seek to understand before we respond and only respond once we have empathised and understood. Someone who is grieving doesn’t expect you to have the answers as they don’t have the answers themselves. They aren’t expecting you to change their life as life for them has been turned upside down. We all long to be listened to and have our thoughts and feelings valued and respected. This year I have learnt that before we listen and learn we have to learn to listen. Listening without judgement is the purest form of love. Although you may never fully understand the depth of someone’s loss, acknowledge that they are walking through the most difficult journey of their lives. We can be part of that journey and listening is the guiding hand they need the most.
Grievers are often made to feel like a burden but it is a special gift for someone to say, ‘I know you’re hurting and although I can’t fix your pain, I can help lessen the burden you feel by listening’.
Avoiding unsolicited advice
I did a podcast a few weeks ago about fertility issues in teaching. This taboo topic, much like grief, draws so much unsolicited advice. Again, another podcast I completed with Michael McLennan from the charity COVID Aid, we spoke about how, well quite frankly awful people in this country are about talking about grief. We don’t talk, we don’t listen, we don’t make time and we offer emotionless insensitive ‘silence filling’ reductive advice. I’ll give you a few examples of the sort of things people have said to me.
– At least you got to say goodbye
– If you’re still sad, why don’t you talk to a professional
– You’re so strong, I don’t know how you do it
– It was his time
– Everything happens for a reason
– They had a good life
– Stop being upset, you’re stopping them from resting
– It was years ago, move on
I’m sure we’ve all unknowingly said or thought of some of these phrases before. Unsolicited advice doesn’t help. It may be well-intended but what peace does it give to someone who has lost their peace? We need to improve our grief literacy and with the pandemic still claiming upwards of 1,000 lives a week, the sooner this happens the better.
Grief and healing are not
Society sets these arbitrary timelines. My generation of 90s kids assumed that if you weren’t happily married with a degree by 25 years of age, you had failed. Similar to the Stages of Grief model presented to us by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, it just feels like ‘let’s leave them for a little while and when we get back, things will be just as they once were’. The death of a loved one changes everything. Grievers feel guilt at ‘moving on’ because they envisaged a shared future with the loved one who is no longer here. I want Grandad to watch me graduate from my PGCE, to see me begin my career and I could go on and on. I saw family members move on with their lives almost instantaneously but looking back, not everyone grieves or heals in the same way or at the same pace. This needs to be respected and understood. I still recall a deeply traumatic WhatsApp call where a friend watched his mother pass away in a COVID ward. He couldn’t be with her and sobbed endlessly all night. This was just a year ago and he isn’t the same person any more. ‘Normal’ as we once knew it has disappeared, it has gone. As much as I despise the phrase ‘new normal’, I would call the life after grief just that; ‘life after grief’. We all grieve and heal at our own pace.
Grief makes us more energy conscious
I avoid wasting my time on those who don’t match my energy. Our time on this earth is not infinite. It cannot be wasted on those who aren’t prepared to understand, learn or empathise. My Grandfather’s motto was ‘small circle, big heart’. He loved everyone but loved his family above everyone else. Home was his safe place, where he could be himself and enjoy watching his grandchildren grow up. He was enormously energy conscious. Loss teaches us a sense of perspective and that we are going to leave behind a legacy of some sort. Our energy should be invested in that legacy as when it’s all said and done, those who carry on our legacy will be the ones who reciprocated our energy during our time on earth.
Someone somewhere is thankful you are sharing
I often read that ‘oversharing is a trauma response’. Although I am getting a bit better, I speak to people all the time about loss. Grievers have their own tacit cues. We can sense loss in someone’s words, spot it in their eyes and through their non-verbal communication. Grief is its own language. Deep down I know full well conversations about grief remain in their infancy but by remembering those who have gone out loud, we commemorate their lives. Grievers long for safe spaces to share their loss and by this I don’t mean group counselling sessions. The COVID memorial wall is one of few examples in this country where we can collectively grieve. Things are changing as I have connected with bereavement charities led by young people including Let’s Talk About Loss, but the dialogue must continue. I just hope someone somewhere is thankful that I am sharing this with you. I do feel like the tide is changing with young people now beginning to hold deep conversations about societal taboos that generations before us unquestionably and uncritically accepted.
Grief has infinite stages. Sometimes I feel like when I write about grief it is full of contradictions but isn’t that grief in a nutshell? Each step of the journey needs to be carefully taken and gently processed. The next 12 months will inevitably lead to newer lessons and further understanding. Although we are a grief illiterate society, Rio Ferdinand reminds us ‘The sheer scale of cluelessness when it comes to dealing with loss. We’re all stumbling about in the dark; we all need help’. We must carry on learning and supporting each other. Grief is the endless cost of love but also our personal footprint of love. Never stop searching for your answers.
Brick by Brick
It was a cold November weekend,
The mid-autumn chill hit harder watching you depart, my friend,
I often ask myself ‘why did I love so much?’
‘Can I ever learn to trust?’
The hours of counselling and hearing unsolicited advice,
Why can’t people empathise?
How long will this last for?
Will I feel the way I did before?
I waited, the days became weeks, the weeks become months, then years,
But whenever they mention your name, I still struggle to hold back the tears,
Over fights over bowls of cereal, our time together seemed so criminally brief,
Whereas some are cynically at ease, that’s their way of finding relief,
I revel in the grief, it’s the door I keep ajar,
The number of tears I shed, we could have filled thousands of reservoirs,
Yet I watched your final moments but you live on through what we give to others,
Brick by brick I just want to be okay,
Brick by brick, I’m building to one day see you again.
Your Puth. X
For additional support, the following links and sites offer some great advice and practical steps forward.
Michael Rosen’s – Sad Book
Megan Devine’s – https://refugeingrief.com – Her work cannot be understated. Honestly, Devine is a superb grief advocate.
Thinking Out Loud: Love, Grief & Being Mum and Dad – By Rio Ferdinand. Such an important book and looks at how Rio reframed his grief through the process of opening up. A real 10/10.
The Good Grief Trust – they bring all grief and bereavement charities together – https://www.thegoodgrieftrust.org/